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​​Gatchalian hopeful PNoy will sign into law the OWWA Act

Photo by CBCP

Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) Congressman Win Gatchalian is hopeful that President Aquino will sign into law the proposed “Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Act” as this will benefit millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families.

“We hope the President will see the wisdom of immediately signing this for the sake of our OFWs who contribute heavily to our economy. I pray that this measure will be signed immediately as this will benefit millions of OFWs and their immediate families,” said Gatchalian, a majority member of the House foreign affairs committee.

Gatchalian earlier welcomed the bicameral passage of the ​said proposed law, which aims to protect OFWs’ contributions to OWWA by ensuring that the OFW’s fund will used for programs benefiting them instead of supplementing budgets of other agencies.

“This measure will also ensure that their contributions will not be used to fund the administration and maintenance of the agency,” said Gatchalian, who recently rendered assistance to the family of Mary Jane Veloso that made it possible for them to visit the jailed OFW in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The bicameral report on the measure, authored by Gatchalian through his House Bill No. 2053 and the substitute HB No. 4990, was signed by both Houses and is set to be transmitted to the President for his signature.

According to Gatchalian, the proposed law will institute the much-needed reforms to ensure transparency in the usage and management of the OWWA Funds, strengthen the safeguards in the use of the members’ contribution, and the development of programs that will ultimately redound to the benefit of our OFWs and their families.

The harmonized version of House Bill No. 4990 and Senate Bill No. 2995 seeks to limit the use of the OWWA Fund only for the welfare of member OFWs and their families. It cannot be used “to respond, aid, supplement, or in any manner augment any required expenditure by other government agencies.”

It also seeks to ensure that the budgetary support, which various migrant groups have been demanding from the government, will be funneled to OWWA to fund its personal services (PS) and maintenance and operating other operating expenses (MOOE). Such support will be included in the Annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).

The OWWA Board of Trustees, to be headed by the Labor secretary, shall have the power to adjust membership contribution. The affirmative vote of the “absolute majority of all the members” is required for any policy requiring the disbursement of at least P100 million of the OWWA Fund.

Along with the Labor secretary, the Board will be composed of the OWWA administrator; ministers of the Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Budget departments; and the POEA administrator. It will also have two nominated and appointed representatives from sea-based OFWs, and one each from women, land-based recruitment, and sea-based manning sectors.

The measure sets membership in the OWWA, either compulsory or voluntary, effective upon payment of the $25-contribution. Membership will be active until the OFW’s existing contract expires or after two years from contract effectivity, whichever comes first. Subsequent contributions shall be made after two years from the last contribution made.

The proposed law also explicitly mandates that contributions to the OWWA Fund must be paid by the employers, or in their default, by the recruitment agency in the case of new hires. Agencies who fail to do so shall have their license revoked and its officers and directors perpetually barred from engaging in recruitment overseas workers.

The bicam version also seeks to attach the National Reintegration Center for OFWs to the OWWA as reintegration is mandated to be a core program of OWWA. At least 10 percent of the agency’s collection of contribution for the immediately preceding year shall be allocated annually for such program.

The proposed law, which is a product of nine years of interactive consultation with migrant workers and OFW groups, also allows the agency to extend some of its services to non-members. (Monica Cantilero)